Why are many still hesitant to receive the COVID vaccine?

New data with Outbreaks Near Me

Hello from SurveyMonkey! 

A few polling highlights from us this week:

Today we’re unveiling our latest data collected in partnership with Outbreaks Near Me (newly minted name for Covid Near You), the joint team of epidemiologists from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School harnessing data to help citizens and public health agencies identify current and potential hotspots for COVID-19. 

New data from Outbreaks Near Me and SurveyMonkey

Vaccine hesitancy remains stubbornly high in the United States, potentially threatening the broad efficacy of the massive bid to halt the pandemic that’s buffeted the country and the world for the better part of a year.

Not quite half of all adults in the U.S. (48%) in our poll would opt to get vaccinated against the coronavirus right away if given the chance, exactly the same percentage saying so in two previous surveys this summer and fall. Widespread concerns about side effects and a possibly rushed process are the top concerns people have, but a lack of trust in government and scientists are also big drivers of the hesitancy. 

Among those writing in “something else,” “allergies,” “long term effects,” “pregnancy,” and “religion” are mentioned frequently, as is a fear of needles. Many note that they are already immunocompromised, while others say they prefer naturopathic medical solutions. Finally, many express skepticism in the vaccine itself (“I rather strengthen my immune system”), in the healthcare and pharmaceutical system that helped to create it (“I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies to have my best interests at heart.  I feel like they are more concerned with their bottom line.”), and in the political system that has guided the whole process (“I will not contribute to this govt control”). 

Health care workers, who are first in line to get the vaccines, are no more likely than everyone else to say they would want to get it right away: just 52% say they would receive it right away, compared with 48% overall.

Hoping to address public reluctance to get vaccinated, the Trump administration this week launched a major public education campaign to encourage people to get the shots. The information could move the needle and get the country closer to the herd immunity necessary to beat-back COVID-19: people who say they know a lot about how vaccines work are more than 2.5 times more likely to want a vaccine straight away than those who say they don’t know anything. Those closely tuned into news about the vaccines are also far more apt to raise their hands for one of the vaccines than those who aren’t following closely. 

To be effective, the public health campaign has to be far reaching: even as vaccine news dominates the headlines, just 48% of those working in healthcare are “very closely” following news about the coronavirus vaccines, and the proportions doing so drops dramatically among those in construction (32%), automotive (30%), and agriculture (29%).

Those who say they would not want to receive the vaccine at any point are more likely than others to have a lack of trust in the government (50%), a lack of trust in scientists (29%), and to say the COVID threat is exaggerated (26%). They are also more likely than others to say they never get vaccines (26%). On the other hand, they are less concerned than others about potential side effects (53%) or about the newness of the vaccines (53%).

Older adults are the most likely to say they would want the vaccine right away: majorities of people age 55-64 (57%) and 65 and older (66%) say they would take the vaccine right away, even if they have some hesitancy about it. After health care workers and other front-line workers, seniors will be some of the first Americans eligible to be vaccinated. 

Blacks continue to be the racial group that is most hesitant to receive a vaccination. More than one in five Blacks (22%) say they would not want to receive the vaccine at any point, while just 33% say they would be willing to receive it right away if they are hesitant to do so. 

Two of the new COVID-19 vaccines will be an entirely new type of vaccine that uses messenger RNA to induce an immune response, rather than a live virus. A majority of people in the U.S. say they are neither more hesitant nor less hesitant to receive the vaccine that uses mRNA.

Methodology: These data come from a SurveyMonkey online poll conducted December 7-13, 2020 among a national sample of 34,443 adults in the U.S. Respondents were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 1.0 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over. 

More covid data worth watching:

  • The latest Axios/Ipsos finds that 27% of Americans say they plan to get the vaccine as soon as it’s available, just about matching the 30% finding from our Outbreaks Near Me|SurveyMonkey partnership

  • In a new KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report, 71% of the public say they would definitely or probably get a vaccine for COVID-19 if it was determined to be safe by scientists and available for free to everyone who wanted it, again about equal to the 74% of adults in our Outbreaks Near Me|SurveyMonkey data who say would be willing to get the vaccine even if they waited some time

  • As Ariel Edwards-Levy notes in HuffPo, discrepancies in the question wordings and methodologies amongst pollsters is leading to some apples-to-oranges comparisons from one poll to another, but it may also reveal some interesting information about what is giving Americans pause before rushing to get their shots. Some polls ask a straightforward yes or no question: would you get vaccinated? Some add a short preamble, specifying that the vaccine would be safe, or free, or proven. Some polls, like SurveyMonkey’s, offer a range of categories that allow respondents to express varying degrees of hesitation, or try to understand how eager respondents are to get vaccinated versus how much they would have to be prodded to do so. We’re looking forward to the AAPOR papers that result from all these questions!

That’s it for this week—thanks for reading! Hit reply to send us any questions or feedback.